A day after House appropriators backed the White House’s defense funding plan for fiscal 2023, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said he expects spending totals to be increased in coming days in response to rising inflation.
“We’ll see by how much, but it’s not going to be an insignificant amount,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., in a press event Wednesday morning. “We’re going to wind up with an increased number.”
On Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled their $762 billion defense spending plan for fiscal 2023. An appropriations subcommittee approved the figure in a vote Wednesday, and the full committee is expected to vote on the plan next week.
The numbers are in line with President Joe Biden’s plans for a roughly 4% increase in defense spending next fiscal year, although the specific figures do not match because of accounting differences between Congress and the White House.
Smith’s committee is expected to mark up its draft of the annual defense authorization bill next week, with the president’s budget as a baseline. But numerous Republicans — and several centrist Democrats — have pushed for a bigger boost, arguing that inflation and national security concerns demand more spending.
The House Armed Services Committee chairman said he sees some of those concerns as insincere, since Republicans are not pushing for big plus-ups to counter inflation for non-defense spending accounts.
But he also acknowledged that an amendment to increase overall military spending during next week’s authorization mark-up is all but certain to be introduced and likely to succeed.
“It had been my hope that the appropriators could potentially get an overall agreement on this [before authorization debate began] because the discretionary budget is all intertwined,” he said.
“You can’t really talk about what the ultimate defense number is going to be without also talking about what the Veterans Affairs number is going to be, and what the non-defense numbers are gonna be.”
Rep. Rob Wittman, the top Republican on the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee, told Defense News on Tuesday that House and Senate authorizers and appropriators were circling around a topline increase of $35 billion to $45 billion.
Wittman said the talks were bipartisan and likely to succeed in coming to an agreement on higher spending levels.
From there, he said, it would be a debate over what that money would do — and he suggested the committees might be interested in buying back some of the ships proposed for decommissioning because the U.S. Navy can’t afford to operate and maintain them.
“We have put some ships back in” through the HASC seapower subcommittee mark, he said, but once a new spending level is agreed upon, “a lot of those dollars will go towards building naval capability, which is absolutely critical. So I’m cautiously optimistic about that.”
Smith did not say he opposes a top line increase, but said lawmakers need to “focus on where we are spending that money” rather than simply increasing the spending topline.
“There are all kinds of concerns about inflation. So we come in and say we got a plus-up in the defense budget to buy more F-35s. What does that have to do with inflation? That’s just buying stuff. So we’re going to need to sort that out.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to unveil its recommendations on total defense spending later this week. The House Armed Services Committee authorization bill markup is scheduled for June 22.
The full House Appropriations Committee is also expected to vote on the defense spending totals June 22. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not released any public plans for spending targets yet.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.